Neuromarketing and Election 2008


Neuromarketing technology is relatively new on the scene, and has been employed primarily by deep-pockets corporate customers. Application to politics has been mostly general and academic; my 2006 piece, The Neuroscience of Political Marketing, discussed research by Emory’s Drew Westen that showed that committed party voters did not process information in a rational or analytical manner. (Not really breaking news…) Now, the massive budgets of the 2008 U.S. presidential election are bringing out the neuromarketers in droves.

A Wall Street Journal article by Alexandra Alter, Reading the Mind Of the Body Politic, describes some of the work going on in political neuromarketing – I’ve linked up the sites for your convenience:

  • EmSense Corp. of San Francisco tracked the skin temperature, heart rate, eye-blinking and brain activity of five subjects to a recent Republican debate using electrode-bearing headsets, and found a positive response to Mitt Romney’s statement about how he “got the job done” in health care.
  • TargetPoint, a political and business consulting firm, is trying to measure the subconscious attitude of voters by measuring the speed with which survey responders answer questions.
  • Lucid Systems is offering a biofeedback program that tracks brain waves, pupil dilation, perspiration and facial-muscle movements to measure subject reactions.
  • Drew Westen, mentioned earlier, wrote a book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, and has formed Westen Strategies, a consulting business aimed at improving political strategies.

Not mentioned in the article is an interesting blog authored by Dan Hill, author of Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds and president of market research firm Sensory Logic:

  • The Face of Politics is a blog in which facial coding expert Dan Hill follows the 2008 election and analyzes the microexpressions found in public videos of candidates and other election-related figures. Activity has been sparse in recent months, but we hope Hill will get busy as the election heats up.

Of course, big budgets can encourage hucksterism (not related to Republican candidate Mike Huckabee ;)). Last month in Political Neuromarketing I wrote about a New York Times op-ed piece, This Is Your Brain on Politics, and commented that “The first few conclusions seem so obvious as to not require firing up a multi-millon dollar fMRI machine.” Alter reports that Nature echoed a similar sentiment, asking, “Does anyone need a $3 million scanner to conclude that Hillary needs to work on her support from swing voters?”

Despite the sometimes justifiable criticism, it seems certain that neuromarketing is entering politics in a big way this season. While we may never know the details of the applications within specific campaigns, the allure of publishing general data on reactions to candidates, their positions, and their ads will certainly drive continued publication of findings.

We’ll keep you posted throughout the campaign. If we have missed a neuromarketing in politics resource, please post a comment or drop us a note.

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